Top 3 Back Exercises for a Strong Back

Often times, you come across people in the gym working their mirror muscles: chest, abs, arms, etc… but if you want to build a truly strong, balanced body, you’ve got to dig deeper than the mirror muscles. Start with your back for example.

Your back is a HUGE muscle group. Fifty percent of your body is your legs and if you train like me, often times, I only give them one day a week. Then the other days in the gym are to target different parts of the upper body. I know I am guilty of giving my arms their own day and my back its own day also; which seems wrong because my back is made up of way more muscles and is such a bigger portion of my body, but gets the same one day attention span my arms do.

But that’s how I like it. So to make sure I give my back enough attention on that one day, I burnout every muscle in it to failure every workout. That’s what it takes if you want to build a strong, thick-ass, ripped back. Here are the best three back exercises for doing just that:

[1] T-Bar Rows

How to do it:

If your gym doesn’t have a T-Bar Row machine [many don’t], then take a barbell from the power rack & turn it to where one end is in the corner of a wall or the rack. Cover the end of the barbell in the corner with a heavy dumbbell so it will be held down. On the other end, you will load your weight plates. Just underneath the load, you will use one of the attachments that are typically used on a cable station, preferably the V-Bar attachment, to hold the weight.

Start with a 45 lb. plate to get the feel for it. Place the bar in between your feet, bend your legs as if you’re halfway sitting down into a chair, arch your back [never roll your back], keep your head up, and begin pulling the weight towards your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together hard. Keep your elbows in close to your body. When you let the weight down, allow your upper back to stretch out the muscles you were squeezing hard together. Remember every rep to squeeze the muscles, it will ensure that you getting the most out of the exercise.

back exercises

Single-Arm Variation:

After you have done a few sets of regular T-Bar rows and are feeling fatigued, remove the v-bar attachment, strip some weight off and step both of your feet to one side of the bar. Keeping your calf & body close to the bar, reach down with the closest arm and grab the bar bringing the weight off the ground. This will be the down position, you want your back to be level, not sloping hard to the side with the weight. Now, similar to the regular T-Bar row, this time row the weight up towards your chest/armpit. When you are at the top, you can squeeze the muscles on this side so much harder than you can with the regular version, so take advantage of it. After you finish your set with one side, go directly to the other side and start again. You will find that even though your body feels fatigued after the regular rows, this allows each side enough time to rest that you are able to crank out some more reps.

back exercises

How I Use the Exercise:

I like to work T-Bar rows into the middle of my workout after I have gotten warmed up and am ready for some heavyweight. I begin with just a 45 lb. plate on the end, getting my body used to the motion. Then it’s time to pile on the weight. I will add a 45, do a set till failure; next set, add another 45 lb. [so 3, if you lost me], do it till failure, and I do these first few sets with little rest just adding the weight and starting. Then I may take a couple minutes to recover for a heavy set and depending on the day, I will begin adding 25 or 45 lb. plates for the last two heavy sets [6-10 reps].

I then take off some weight, down to where I have two 45 lb. plates on and do one light, higher-rep [15-25] set until failure. Lastly, I will do two sets on each side of the single-arm version with just a single 45 lb. plate on.

This is how I use the exercise. You use the exercise however you find suits you best. But only put the weight on that you can handle using proper form.

Why you need to do them:

T-Bar rows will give you the thickness you want in your back & especially help boost your strength.

[2] Pull-ups

How to do it:

Grab a pull up bar overhanded & dead hang from it, fold your legs behind you to help stabilize you from rocking back and forth, pull yourself up to where your chin goes over the bar, and lower yourself back down. Really concentrate on not swinging back and forth, and that you’re doing the whole motion all the way up and down, no half-reps.

When doing these there are a few different grips you can do:

  • Close-grip: Overhanded, going to emphasize working forearms and inner back.
  • Power-grip: Overhanded, just barely wider than your shoulders. You will be able to probably get the most reps with this grip.
  • Wide-grip: Overhanded with your hands about the farthest apart on the pull up bar as you can. These will probably be the hardest and will work your upper back for that width you want. You may not be able to do many/any now, but you will soon!

Best back exercises

Weighted Variation:

Once you are comfortable with pull-ups and can rep them out 12 or more in a set, it may be time for you to make it a little harder on yourself! You can do this by holding a 25 lb. dumbbell in between your feet straight down or the more comfortable way, by using a weight belt.

How I use the Exercise:

I use pull-ups CONSTANTLY. I do them daily before every workout just to get my body warm and loosen up.

On my back days though, I use them throughout the whole workout. I often start with pyramid sets in multiples of two, going 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 with 15 seconds or less of rest in between sets. [I call these Prison Pull-ups] It’s a good way to crank out 50 pull-ups in a very short amount of time. I will often do them weighted in pyramid sets like that.

I also love doing burnouts with them such as 20 sets of 10 after my workouts. It takes a while and burns like crazy, but I love it. It is always a sure way to get me sore the next day.

[FYI: For most beginners, pull-ups seem impossible. Maybe you can do two or three, but can’t imagine ever doing more because they seem so difficult. Just like anything else, keep up at them and you will progress. Try an assisted pull-up machine that gives you a weighted boost upwards or have a friend push you up by your legs and lower yourself down as slow as you can. But whatever you do, don’t just avoid them. Keep reading for why ↓]

Why you need to do them:

I look at pull-ups as the squat for your upper body. That’s right, I said it. You must do squats to have a strong base & you must do pull-ups to have a strong upper body. I think they’re essential to building an aesthetic, V-tapering upper half & with the strength they will add, you can’t afford not to do them.

[3] Hyperextensions

How to do it:

Find a hyperextension bench [sometimes these are called “Roman Chairs”], set the top of the pad to be at waist level so you are able to bend forward over it, facing the pad with your feet to the back of the footrest, lower your body down slowly and back up. You can place your hands crossed over your chest or behind your head. Be sure when at the bottom of the motion to remain flexing your lower back and not just dangle there. When at the top of the motion, force your back backwards as if you’re trying to push something behind you.

best back exercises

Weighted Variation:

You may hold a 25 lb. or 45 lb. weight plate in your arms against your chest once you get stronger at the exercise. Do as many reps as you can with the weight, then when you can’t get anymore, set the weight down and continue un-weighted reps until failure. I recommend doing this exercise un-weighted for the first couple months before adding weight to avoid injuring your lower back.

How I use the Exercise:

I do hyperextensions every back day for three weighted sets at the end of my workout, when it is already very fatigued. I would recommend doing these a couple days a week, spaced out [ex: Mon. & Thurs.], and should be doing them more myself. It is an easy exercise to overlook that is really important.

Why you need to do them:

I decided to include hyperextensions as one of the best exercises, not because they are so much for building a big back, but rather important for maintaining a balanced, strong core in general. Your lower back takes all of the stress of your upper body such as when your spine compresses & gets jarred around when you walk, run, etc… So doing a few sets of these weekly can keep you from feeling like an old man.


Try these exercises during your next back workout and let me know in the comments below how you like them!

Thanks for reading!

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2 Responses to Top 3 Back Exercises for a Strong Back

  1. yılmaz January 28, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    you lie about 20 sets,each 10 repeats after your workouts…you should learn to count;) if that be true you must be kipping in your pull ups.


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